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  • Writer's pictureHungry 2Move

Why Ballet Dancers Are Always Thin

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

“On average professional female ballet dancers weigh more than 20% below the average weight for their height” (1)


Does this shock you? Or maybe not?



You go to see Swan Lake, or the Nutcracker and you’ll expect the dancers to be a certain shape and size, the same shape and size as all other ballet dancers you have maybe ever seen… thin. Society has conditioned us to enjoy the slender and almost childlike look of the ballet dancer, the classic prima ballerina look. After all, it is an art form. Surely, we should strive for perfection? These dancers are at the peak of their fitness, so of course they will be thin?


Ballet dancers are basically athletes right? If you’ve seen ballet dancers perform or their vigorous training regimes and classes, I think you would likely agree. Then why is it that dancers and athletes don’t have the same attitude towards food and body image?


Research found by Brinson and Dick revealed that not one of the ballet dancers they questioned had ever received any professional nutritional advice. Whereas, this would be commonplace for an athlete to receive both nutritional advice and a diet plan.


“Most people need between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day. For athletes, this number can increase by 500 to 1,000 more calories.” (2)

Then why are ballet dancers often eating far below the daily calorie intake for a healthy person, never mind someone who is on a high intensity training programme?


“In shape for us is being hungry” a dancer at Balanchines ‘The Four Temperaments’ states “Eat nothing and see how far you can go.”(3)


Is it even moral for us to support an industry that encourages this? The prevalence of eating disorders in the ballet world is honestly scary, and it is not something we should turn a blind eye to. Former Royal Ballet artistic director Monica Mason states “Any director of a company who said they have never had an anorexic dancer would have to have been lying.’ (4)


“The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15-24 years old.” (5)

Ballet dancers conforming to these thin standards often results in infertility, osteoporosis, early retirement and even loss of life.


This is dangerous.


So why is it we expect ballet dancers to be thin? Why do we see thinness as an ideal? Our western society worships thinness, you only need to look at the media to see this. Of course there have been massive strides for body positivity and fat liberation in recent years, but this has not undone the decades of conditioning generations of people have gone through. So of course this will be passed onto and even amplified in the ballet world.


In the ballet world we can thank Geoge Balanchine for popularising the devastatingly thin ideals we have for dancers today. Balanchine ‘liked to see bones. He liked to see ribs.’ (6)

The wellbeing of dancers has never been a priority, thinness has been the ideal, regardless of the dancer’s health, but surely it is time for this to change.


Ballet is a beautiful art form. The strength and elegance of the dancer and the music work hand in hand, it should not matter the size of the ballet dancer. Is it time, not only time to challenge those in the dance world, but also to challenge ourselves as audience members to change how we watch a ballet? Let’s change our views so that thinness is not worshipped, let’s see all dancers as beautiful.


A dancer should be able to exist in their natural body. They should be able to look after their body; fuelling themselves and training hard, all whilst maintaining good mental and physical health, regardless of body shape or size. Injury prevention and adequate nutrition need to replace low calorie diets and maintaining a low weight.


Something in the ballet world needs to change. Ballet dancers should not have to look a certain way to be able to do what they love. Let’s appreciate the art form; the way the body moves in time with the music, the strength of movement and the elegance of the body. Rather than the composition and size of the body itself.



References:

  1. Kelly, D. (25/02/2014) Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection Greystone Books Ltd

  2. https://familydoctor.org/nutrition-for-athletes/

  3. https://www.dancemagazine.com/the-cult-of-thin/

  4. https://www.dancemagazine.com/the-cult-of-thin/

  5. https://www.mirasol.net/learning-center/eating-disorder-statistics.php?fbclid=IwAR2IBLHbsweFBzWyvOvqsRBEd0WIinV_RhuCQL2pjmP89AGPEqIBE0jH7Dk#:~:text=The%20mortality%20rate%20associated%20with%20anorexia%20nervosa%20is,With%20treatment%2C%20the%20mortality%20rate%20falls%20to%202-3%25

  6. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/post_6717_b_4640946


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